The Heart of Death

When the moon was new, just after the skies were lit only with the stars, a woman was born in the cold winter air. She was rather extraordinary…born with the face like that of a cat, whiskers splaying from her small, triangular, pink nose and cheeks. Her eyes were green and almond shaped and her body was covered with thick, spotted fur like a leopard. But her hands and arms, feet and legs were as human as a leopard spotted fur covered human could be. 

This was not what made her extraordinary, though. At this time of the moon’s awakening, humanity took many strange physical forms. What made this woman extraordinary was within…a heart made of death. Not a dead heart, it still beat. And not the kind of necrotic, decrepit heart covered in spider webs. No, this was a heart that was vital and alive, but where other hearts would be red with life, hers thrummed in black and resonated with death where ever she went.

With her heart of death, she grew into quite the Seer. Everywhere she went, every creature she saw, she could see it’s inevitable end. She would see a sapling, and in her heart she could feel the axe centuries from now that would chop it down. She would see the gnats around the fruit living a full life that led to it’s natural demise the following day. Whether near or far, she knew what the end would be. 

As a child, this terrified the Seer. She knew how and when her parents would die, which friends would be lost to a childhood plague and which she might grow old with. She had gruesome visions of tragic accidents, and saw animals being slaughtered as they passed by local farms. She didn’t speak of it. In fact, she barely spoke at all. She was quiet and reserved, and no one knew of her powers.

Her parents, thinking something wrong with the child, took her to the local healers. They looked over her fur, poked and prodded, and tested her in all the ways they could imagine. They could tell that something wasn’t right, but none of their initial inquiries could explain it. “If you are willing, leave her here with us for a time. Perhaps, we can determine the cause of her turmoil.” Her parents agreed, and she began to reside in the healer’s house. There, she saw so many ill people coming and going, always knowing which ones would get better and which ones would not live for long.

Over time, the healer started to notice the smile or grimace of the young child as patients drifted in and out. “Why such pain on your face, child?” “You seem hopeful for that one, dear.” Her gift now seen, the young Seer started opening up, and the healer recognized the young girl’s gift as prophecy. As the Seer grew into a young woman, she took to working with the healers. The healers, in turn, helped the woman better understand her gift. A synergy formed where the young woman would tell the healers the end that she saw. Was this curable? Did another death await this patient? The healers would sometimes push a little harder to save a life, or maybe ration out medicine to those seen as having the best chances. Sometimes, it was just a matter of easing a patient’s pain as they succumbed to death.

The young, spotted Seer began to wonder what her gift truly was.  Had she said nothing, would the same people have died? Would the healers have tried harder to save another? Was she turning her prophecies into reality just by sharing them? She needed to know, and so took her leave of the healer and said goodbye to her family. She set out for a city far away where no one had heard of her or her gifts. She caravanned across deserts, scaled mountains, forded streams. Until she arrived at a magnificent city in the west, full of tall spires, grand buildings made of stone with vaulted roofs, cobblestone streets, and bustling with life and with death. 

The fall harvest was soon approaching, the residents scurried about in preparation for a city-wide festival. Red ribbons and streamers were strung from windows across the streets. The smell of fresh baked goods mixed with the smell of freshly cut flowers carted about town. The children ran about in corn husk masks waving small bundles of straw. She walked about the city streets, finding the local healer, the city center, and then a small room to rent. She spent two days walking about the streets learning her way about town, and studying the many people she encountered. On the second day, she stopped one of the florists, seeing the most exquisite and unique flowers. “Anigozanthos humilis or cat’s paw,” the vendor told her. She purchased ten of the yellow and red furry fingered flowers.

The next day, the city erupted in joyous celebration, preparations complete and ready for the occasion. She wove her way through the crowds and the street vendors. She gave out ten flowers, each to someone who’s death she had presaged to occur in the next week. Ten people she had seen in the days before so that she could track the results. Ten people; some old and some young, some healthy and some ill, some to die peaceful deaths and some to die tragically. Ten people to test her thoughts against reality.

The following day, the Seer went to the healer to offer her services. Over the next week, she saw five of her “flower children” in the healer’s ward. All five passed away as she had foreseen. At the end of the week, she went to the hall of records. She tracked down three more “flower children,” all having died in the manner she predicted. The two remaining “flower children” she tracked through her visions to the place of their deaths, and she found her prophesies fulfilled.

Part of her was sad. All the loss she had seen in her life, the suffering…it was all real…or it would be. Part of her was excited. She felt empowered, knowing the truth of her abilities. Still, she had more questions. She had the power of prediction, but could she alter these visions? Could she change fate? She decided to test her powers; to try to cheat death itself.

The Seer hurried to the market, looking all about. It must be a death that will happen soon, she thought. And no deaths from natural causes or incurable diseases. It must be something preventable.

A young woman, perhaps in her twenties, shuffled through the square in a pale blue dress. In the familiar flash, visions of the soft blue fabric billowing down a stone-walled spire raked her mind. Yes, that was exactly what she was looking for. She approached the young woman. 

“Beware, my mistress. Your end might be near. I have foreseen an untimely demise for you, falling down a long, narrow spire. Keep your feet to solid ground. Take care in the days ahead.”

Looking into the green, almond cat’s eyes of the Seer, the woman sensed the deep truth she spoke, and replied, “There are so many spires in our city…I will do my best to heed your warning. Perhaps, I can send others to complete any of my errands on the upper floors. For how long should I do this?”

“For the next three days. If you can stay sure-footed until then, your curse will be broken.”

Three days later, she searched for the woman, but she was nowhere to be found. Once more she returned to the hall of records where, sure enough, she found the woman’s name listed in the notices of death. She tracked down the woman’s grieving parents, and gently inquired about their loss.

“It’s terrible. She was standing on the road, waiting for a package to be brought down to her, when a carriage came careening down the street. The horses had been spooked by something, and the carriage driver lost control. She was knocked back, tripped, and fell down into a well.” 

She offered her condolences to the parents and left, somber and defeated. Death would not be cheated. She could not change the fates she saw. What good is such horrible knowledge with no power to change it?, she thought. My gift is a curse.

She walked to the outskirts of the city where the tall spires gave way to small cottages. She kept walking until those cottages thinned out to dot rolling hillsides. There, she found an open field with a single apple tree along the northern stone wall. She sat beneath it, ripe apples strewn about the ground around her. While she ate a piece of the fallen fruit, an old cat approached her.

“Kin of my kin, may I sit and rest with you a moment?” the cat asked.

“Of course. There is ample room for two here, and I could use the company.” she answered.

The cat hobbled over to the Seer, her grace lost to arthritis for many years. She curled up next to her warm, leopard spotted legs. As she nestled in, the Seer could feel the bones of its haunches press into her thigh. It’s mottled, tortoise colored fur was dirty and wiry, the way old cats hair can get.

“I see you don’t have long left in this world.” she said to the cat, gently stroking its fur.

The cat replied, “I have long enough to sit here with you, to enjoy the shade of the apple tree and the breeze across the field, and the tenderness of your hands in my fur.”

“But aren’t you afraid?” asked the seer.

“Of what?” said the cat. “Right now is purrfect, all the more so for knowing I only have this moment to enjoy it.”

“But your death….”

“Death comes to us all, my young one. Even the mountains end up as flat, sandy shores to be washed to sea. Without death, what would make the hunt worthwhile? Or even necessary if my hunger could wait for any day to be answered? Were it not for death, I would not have hunted. I would not have learned from my mistakes…my missed prey. I might still trust the snake that bit me as a kitten. 

“And when it comes, whatever comes after for me will be, whether I choose it or not. Just so for you. So I choose not to fight the inevitable, and to celebrate that which makes each moment of life so precious. Now hush, my child. Let’s not waste this moment with words.”

They sat together quietly in the shade of the tree for hours until, at last, the soft purr of the cat became still. The seer cried a little over the lifeless body beside her, but also tears of happiness for the beautiful moment they shared, and for a new understanding of the true power of her gift. The cat’s words had moved the Seer deeply.

She spent the next few days walking through town, thinking to herself, turning the cat’s words about her mind, watching the people as they passed by. She saw a blacksmith working at his forge, his young son off in the corner playfully vying for his father’s attention. She saw their future ends, and she was inspired her to use her power, for knowing one’s gift and using one’s gift are two separate feats. She went back to the florist to purchase another cat’s paw flower, and to ask the florist to regularly stock them as best she could. Then, she took the flower back to the forge. 

“Excuse me, sir.” she said to the blacksmith as she held out the flower.

He paused from his work, resting his heavy hammer upon the anvil. “What’s this for?” he asked.

“I am a seer, and I have glimpsed your future. Today, you are called to squelch these fires and leave the bellows. Take your son to the field, and play with him. Make a memory of love…that is the fire you are to build today. That is the relationship you are to forge.”

He pondered this for a moment, doubtful. “I’m sorry. I have a piece that must be ready by tomorrow evening. I appreciate the gesture, but I can’t.”

“Sir,” she said firmly. “Look at your son. Really look at him.” The young boy looked up at his father with a combination of awe, fear, and hope. “Take your son to the field. Play with him. Make a memory of love. That is the fire you are to build today, the relationship to forge.”

He could see the seriousness with which she said her words, and was moved in the way that only deep, personal truths are able. He set down the anvil, and took the flower into his hand in its stead. “Come, my son. Today, we go to the fields.”

Several days later, the blacksmith died in an accident at the forge.

Everywhere the Seer went, she did this….Called people to life. To use the time that they had on this earth. Over the years, it became known throughout the towns and villages that, when you were given a cat’s paw, you were to listen. It might be days, weeks, or even years, but the end would come. One could never quite be certain when, but the cat’s paw called all who received it to make sure every moment was filled with the best of life and love. For this was her true gift: to know the preciousness of every moment. To see the worth in every life.

When she was very old, over a hundred years in age with her fur draped loosely over her arthritic hips, her leopard spotted fur matted, dirty, and wiry like that of the old cat, a man came to her side. He placed a dried cat’s paw flower on her lap.

“Years ago, you came to my fathers forge. You gave him this flower, and sent him to the field to play with me. The memory of those few days with him have lived with me all these years. I have held your kindness in my heart as those moments with him carried me through the darkest of my days. I will never forget what you said…That love is the fire to build, and relationships are the things to be forged. I have done my best to share that with all I could. And now, my Seer, allow me to repay the kindness.”

She had the man wheel her out of the city, where spires turn into cottages, and onward to where the cottages thin to dot the rolling hills. There, they found an open field with a single apple tree along the northern stone wall. They sat in the shade of the tree as he ate a ripened apple. And she curled up beside him to finally rest.